Top Reads of 2017

book review

I love reading. So much. Here are my five favorite books from this year:

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown: Braving the Wilderness is a book all about shame–something we all experience but can’t seem to put into words (or are too ashamed to–see what I did there?). I devoured this in a day, unlike her last book, which took me 10 months to read because it kept kicking my butt. I feel like this book was really influential in my journey this year.

Stand Out 2.0 by Marcus Buckingham: One of the things I’ve most enjoyed this year is taking some time to understand what my strengths are. I’ve often bought into the lie that I need to strengthen my weaknesses, but through the Strengthfinders test and now the Stand Out 2.0 test, I realize that what I need to do instead is to harness all the great things about me and find people to stand in my gaps. I feel like my sense of self-awareness is sharper than ever, and my self-confidence has really improved. PS, this book is actually really short.

Intentional Living by John C. Maxwell: I wasn’t sure about this book, since a grinning old white guy was on the cover. But I heard him speak last year at the Global Leadership Summit, and I put his book on my bedside table for 7 months before I finally picked it up and devoured it. Maxwell talks a lot about owning your story and telling it well–something that obviously interests me. He has a lot of his own personal stories in it, as well as practical activities.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg: This year I really wanted to focus on better habits (I might have failed at this). I loved this book, because it was more than self-help; it talked about how habits are formed, and related it not only to our personal habits but even how companies track our habits (which I found equally fascinating and creepy). This book was great for both the self-help geek and the information geek inside of me.

Off Balance by Matthew Kelly: One of the things I’ve been struggling with is how to do ministry, which I love, while also supporting a relationship with a kind man, who I also love. HOW CAN I SPEND ALL MY TIME WITH BOTH?! The great thing this book taught me is that balance is a lie, and the more I put up boundaries, the more chaos I make for myself. So, I quit having so many boundaries, and I feel more balanced than ever. Strange. But it works.

Honorary mentions of what I meant to read but didn’t even though they’ve been on my bedside table all year because I stink but PROMISE I WILL NEXT YEAR OKAY:

  • What is the Bible? By Rob Bell
  • Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey
  • Option B by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant
  • Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves
  • Martin Luther by Eric Mextexas (it took me 2 hours to read 70 pages)

What else should I read in 2018?

Scary Close

book review

When I saw that Donald Miller was coming out with a new book, I almost glossed right over it. Don isn’t my usual type of writing style. But when I saw the topic I was intrigued.

Scary Close is about Don’s journey to intimacy. Don didn’t get married until he was 42, and not because he wasn’t trying. Don put on a “false self” that he tried to sell people instead of offering vulnerability.

People who know me know that I’m a pretty vulnerable person–but I also struggle with the idea of intimacy. Anomaly? Yes. I am sometimes too vulnerable with people as a way to fend people off so they won’t step any closer to see what’s underneath the broken exterior.

Even though Don and I have different problems, the way it presents itself is really familiar. I really appreciated his book, and I devoured it in three hours last night. It’s already being passed around to other staff–Don spoke at our church last year, and some of the stories he shared were also in the book.

I encourage you to pick up the book and check it out. I also encourage you to check out some other information on the idea around “false self.” I learned this concept in college psych classes, and I think there’s a lot of tie-in to ministry… but I’m sure I’ll write more on that later.

A Woman in Youth Ministry

book review, women

Gina Abbas has published a book through the Youth Cartel titled, “A Woman in Youth Ministry.” Gina contacted me over a year ago telling me about this book, and I was stoked!  There are very few books about women in youth ministry, and as Gina points out in her book, the few that are, are written by men.

Trust me–I’ve purchased every book out there about being a woman in youth ministry, and although I treasure them, few are as practical as Gina’s.  What I love about this book is that it isn’t a book of whining or joking about all the problems we face.  I also love that it isn’t a book of exegetical arguments for the role.  It’s a book of practical, real-life stories and advice. Advice that Gina has been sharing on her blog that inspired me as a young youth pastor.

Here are some of the best excerpts:

Gina empowers women to not only overcome male-dominated church structures, but even work from within them. Gina is appreciative of the churches she has worked in that were hierarchical, but also knew when to move on.

In really conservative (male-dominated) evangelical circles that hold a very narrow hierarchical or complementarian theological view of women in ministry, leaders still always find a way to lead.

So yeah, the church can call us “directors,” “coordinators,” “pastors,” or whatever title they prefer. But never forget that whether you’re paid, volunteer, or bivocational; whether you’re single or married, God can use you as a woman in youth ministry.

Being boycotted for being a girl kinda sucked, but I sipped my coffee and reminded myself that it was their hurt speaking.

Gina gives advice on looking for a position in youth ministry…which is difficult.

So my advice is don’t take on a ministry role or volunteer position that ends up being the equivalent of singing up to play baseball without every being allowed to bat. It’s a disappointment I could have avoided if I’d spent more time discerning my own theology and leadership style. But I was never taught how to do that in Bible college, nor did a ministry mentor ever talk me through that process.

I wouldn’t have had any of the youth ministry positions I’ve landed without being willing to move or try something outside of my won theological framework.  Like any job or new ministry venue, you have to knock on a lot of doors and sometimes step out in faith, trusting that it’s going to be a good long-term match.

Gina doesn’t let women get away with being called bossy, but empowers them to be bolder!

I get the whole “I’m an introvert–please don’t ask me to pray out loud” thing. But when women are given a chance to lead or an opportunity to speak up, we need to shrug off our insecurities and lead–and lead well.

Gina gives great advice that’s not just for mothers, but translatable for anybody who wants to balance a healthy life apart from ministry.

If your senior pastor and ministry colleagues rarely take their day off, come in every Saturday, and have terrible boundaries with their time, watch out. It’s going to be difficult for you to have a healthy work schedule with set times for ministry and protected time for yourself, your marriage, and your family. Pay attention. If your colleagues are terrible workaholics, it will be tough for you to maintain good boundaries on your own time.

Gina’s book is incredibly well-resourced. She has links and alludes to many different sources for information pertaining to all topics. Gina also asked people–including myself–to contribute parts to the book. I love it, because people of all backgrounds are represented in the voices!  I really appreciated Rachel Blom’s excerpt, because Rachel is typically very professional in her writing, but she was very vulnerable and shared a great story.

Relational ministry is bae. If you haven’t heard the term bae before, it stands for “before anything else.”  Relational ministry is so incredibly important. We can plan events and preach awesome sermons all day long, but relationships are what make everything click. –Chelsea Peddecord

Please, people, if you’re dead set on having a godly young man be your new youth pastor, then express it clearly in your job description so I don’t waste my time dreaming of how I can love and serve your teenagers and their families. –Morgan Schmidt

Therefore, I need to trade my lack of self-confidence for the image of God who says to me, “I have created you to lead with a beauty that is bold and not bossy; a strength that is secure and not sassy; a valor that is vibrant and not vindictive.” Leading with courage and assurance will be contagious to everyone who watches you lead. Trust me–this is why look to the women who lead me. –ME!

REVIEW: 99 Thoughts for Junior Highers

book review, Resources

Even before I transitioned to my new position as a junior high director, I wanted to get my hands on this book. I basically ordered it the day of my hire.

Here’s what 99 Thoughts is not: It is not a topical self-help book full of Bible verses.  It is not one of those books for students to go, “I’m struggling with self-image. What does God say about that?” and then find a bunch of Bible verses on self-image. Those kinds of books are okay, but they don’t speak to the needs of junior highers: plain-spoken truths about topics they really care about.

What happens when you want to know about self-image? First-off, no junior higher calls it that. They want to know “Who am I?” and “What’s happening to me?” Those are two of the exact questions that this book answers.

Yet, when the book solves these questions, it doesn’t give a list of Bible verses; in fact, it doesn’t contain many “Bible verses” at all.  It explains the truths contained in scripture in a way that is relatable and understandable. It is “bite-sized” and not overwhelming at all.

Not only do they give Biblical and practical insight, but the authors relate that insight to their own lives as Junior Highers. Which, speaking of, who are these authors?  Why, Mark Oestreicher and Brooklyn Lindsey, two of my favorite junior high minds!

When I read the stories from Marko and Brooklyn as junior highers, I can’t help but laugh and be brought to my treacherous and awkward junior high days.

So, here’s the skinny: Buy this book. In bulk. And give it to your junior highers. You can even base studies and series off of it. It is good. It is palatable. And it is genius.

You can buy it here.

PS–I know this review is super-outdated. I actually wrote this in December, and somehow it never got published. Here it is ;)

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

book review, women

I first found out about Rachel Held-Evans from a pastor I was talking with about potentially serving in his church.  I stalked his Twitter page and clicked on every article he tweeted about, and quite a few were about her.  I figured she was worth checking out.  Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to think.  Her theology wasn’t exactly like mine, but her approach towards people was.  And although I couldn’t agree with her on doctrine, I appreciated her heart and was drawn to her.  She was my dirty liberal secret.

I first read about her new book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” on some of the other sites I read on a daily basis, sites that are far more conservative.  They pointed out many flaws in her book and in her theology, and some of their remarks made me angry. As a female youth minister in a conservative denomination, I daily struggle with my identity as such. I struggle with remarks made about my gender, even if they are “joking.”  I struggle with being a woman, period, sometimes.  I even struggle with some of the expectations that are in the Bible about women, even though I have always thought of myself who takes the Bible pretty seriously and literally.  Yet many within my congregation who would say that same thing would also say that I don’t belong as a youth leader.

I felt like, because of Rachel’s “liberal” views on certain topics, her book wasn’t given a chance.  I had friends, upon hearing of me reading the book, messaging me links to popular conservative sites, sending me scriptures “condemning” her, and asking me to reconsider inarguable things simply because Rachel said them.

Truthfully, the conservatives reacted very ironically.

Rachel’s book is all about taking the Bible seriously–looking at ALL of the scriptures on what it means to be a woman, and not just pick the ones we like.  Yet many conservatives picked apart her book and found the parts that showed her “liberal” theology*, her literal acting out of the Bible, and her precious vulnerability as comical, depreciating the Bible, and a slap on baby Jesus’ face.

Now look, I don’t agree with it all.  It is kind of weird to me when a lady calls her husband “master” just because the Bible mentioned in like once. But then again, there are other scriptures that we follow and they only said them once too.  Rachel wasn’t making a mockery out of scripture, neither was she saying the Bible wasn’t God-inspired or trustworthy.  Rachel was trying to get her readers to understand that when we look at scripture, we have to consider the cultural and historical contexts.  When we don’t, that is making a mockery of scripture. And you can’t argue with that, as that’s day one of Hermeneutics 101.

Another thing Rachel did for me in this book is soothe my sometimes-crazy tries of trying to be this “biblical” woman.  I don’t have to act out every part of Proverbs 31 in order to be a woman of God.  If I can’t/don’t bear children, I won’t lose my salvation. My primary responsibility is to not preoccupy my time with trying to be a woman of God, but a child of God.  My womanhood is certainly something to be celebrated, but it’s not solely my identity.

As a leader within the Christian church, I’m applying this in so many ways.  I’m comfortable with my theological understanding that I can lead teenagers. The conservative in me admittedly still shouts against woman senior pastors, but I am comfortable with my theology for youth ministry.

It bothers me that so many people can have such strong views against a book that says “I don’t have all the answers.”  Rachel is transparent and shares her struggles and meltdowns. Any woman can relate.  But Rachel is solid in her exegesis.

*By the way, Rachel considers herself as an Evangelical.